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20 years in the Amusement industry

Part 4: Kings Dominion’s Time Shaft: Vomitus-Induced Craziness

As mentioned in part 1, Kings Dominion in 1979 opened an artificial mountain called “The Lost World” that consisted of four separate rides: Mt. Kilamanjaro, The Voyage to Atlantis boat ride, Journey to the Land of Dooz mine train ride and finally, the Time Shaft.

The Time Shaft was nothing more than a high-end carnival “Rotor” ride, built by Chance Manufacturing, makers of many fine amusement flat rides. Located at the far right-hand side of the cement mountain (near what is today the Volcano launch zone), the Time Shaft was accessible by entering and walking through what seemed like a mile of arched concrete. As mentioned before, the entry briefly ducked outside the mountain across a 10-ft long rope bridge the first year, but once the ropes started fraying no one in maintenance was willing to go out on it to fix it, so the rope bridge was retired.

One day, probably sometime in the Mesozoic era, someone waiting in line in that tunnel stuck their chewing gum on the wall. Then, over the years 7 million other guests took their cue, and eventually a large section of the Time Shaft entry tunnel was nothing but a colorful Jackson Pollock-like creation of wadded, used chewing gum impossible to scrape off. It could have been an attraction unto itself if it weren’t so nasty, but that’s the downside of leaving tunnel-dwellers standing bored and unsupervised for up to an hour or longer inside a dark airless passageway.

But after what seemed like hours channeling through a dim concrete maze, the now gumless guest (many of whom had no idea what they were in line for or what the ride even looked like) finally came out in the upper level of a big round room that looked like a cross between a Mayan ceremonial arena and a mad scientist laboratory, with a Dr. Frankenstein-like electro-neon apparatus and 6 disco mirror balls suspended from above and a round spinning drum down below. The que-line wisely entered above the actual rotor instead of level with it so guests – not knowing what to expect – had a chance to watch other people ride, then duck out of line and exit with their head still held high if they chose.

The Time Shaft itself was a circular steel drum, about 20-feet in diameter, 8-feet tall and open at the top. The interior was covered with a riveted rubber mat. After walking around the downhill concentric pathway to the entry level, about 20 Guests at a time entered through a door and stood with their backs pressed against the drum sides. Once loaded and locked inside, the operator said something like “Welcome to the Time Shaft, stand with your arms and legs straight. Enjoy your ride.” Then, with a “pull-up” of a red button, the drum started spinning.

The mechanics of the ride were quite simple. The ride sat on a steel frame on steel legs. The drum, mounted on a hydraulic lift cylinder, was driven by a regular truck tire mounted on an electric-over- hydraulic drive motor. That’s it – no brakes, nothing fancy.

The highlight of the ride was when the rotor got up to speed the operator pushed a button and the diamond-plate steel floor dropped, triggering a light show from the Frankenstein apparatus above and reflected in the 6 disco mirror balls. As mentioned, the floor was mounted on a massive hydraulic cylinder and dual scissor lifts underneath. It only dropped about a foot, but it seemed like a lot more to the spinning and now screaming guests who were stuck to the walls of the drum like inside a horizontal clothes dryer, centripetal force holding them in place while the bad LSD-trip light show flickered and flashed over their heads.

After less than a minute the operator raised the floor back up and hit the stop button, powering down the drive motor to an eventual stop. They jogged the drum in position to line up two hash marks on top so the doors were aligned to the entry and exit tunnels and shut it off. An exit operator opened the exit door and that’s when the fun really started.

While the ride was positively sickening for most riders, only a precious few actually threw up inside the drum while the ride was in motion (not cool – it was like those old spin-art booths, with the same splattering effect). Most chose instead to step off into the flat, motionless exit tunnel, the sudden change in perspective triggering extreme vertigo, before heaving all that greasy theme park food they paid a small fortune for. In fact, throwing up right outside that exit door got so bad the Operations department wisely installed a drum of peppermint cat litter called Voban and maintenance hooked up a water hose coiled right outside to wash down the exit, draining all that material down onto the ground below the ride. Out of sight, out of mind.

Once all the staggering riders were off and trying to negotiate the dim cement tunnel exit back outside (with many whacking their heads and shoulders on the rough concrete stalagtites), the operator closed the exit door and opened the entry door to allow the next group of hardy souls on board to repeat the process.

The ride was one of only a couple flat rides in the entire park not on a timer (one other was the Monster); the operator had leeway on how long to run the ride, although standard operating procedure kept the total operation time at about 3 minutes, from load to unload.

The lack of a timer played hell on the maintenance guys, however. It was a rite of passage for new seasonal maintenance employees to go with a full-time mechanic to inspect the ride, and the mechanic telling the clueless newbie to “check the inside of the drum”. Once inside, the clueless newbie heard the door slam and the hydraulic motor cut on, he found himself trapped with absolutely no way to get out. Then the evil maintenance mechanic would appear at the operator’s console, tell the newbie to enjoy his ride then start it up and let it run as long as he wanted.

Personally, a mechanic tricked this writer onto that ride and actually left the room, leaving me to spin helplessly for what seemed like an hour but was probably about 10 minutes. After a while I went into a state of Zen, I think, and as long as I focused on a wall rivet right across from me I was OK. But like the others, stepping off the ride (eventually) triggered that vertigo and I was sick for two days.

Payback in the theme park maintenance business can be hell, however: that mechanic was forced into 10 consecutive rides on the Rebel Yell (a ride he hated) later that fall, courtesy of an old-school amusement veteran named Bill who laughingly refused to open the lapbars.

It is unknown how many riders threw up upon exiting that ride (payback for sticking their gum on the wall?), but it became obvious in 1993 (a couple of years before the ride was removed to make room for Volcano) that 14 years of vomit-water running down the steel support legs caused a unique problem: The ride now suffered from a condition called “vomit-induced corrosion” at the base of the supports where they bolted to the footers. A contractor was brought in that winter, and thousands of dollars were spent modifying and welding braces and gussets to the legs.

It was the first ride Kings Dominion had ever seen suffer from this particular problem. First and hopefully last.

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